Nova Systems, a leading engineering and technology solutions firm, together with OneSky, a global Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) traffic management company, showcased the applications for its recently completed UTM system solution at the official launch of Singapore’s first Maritime Drone Estate (MDE). The showcase was held as part of the MDE’s official launch, in conjunction with Singapore Maritime Week 2021. Having recently completed its two-year consortium project to develop a UTM prototype fit for Singapore’s unique urban environment, Nova’s latest showcase exemplifies the company’s continued efforts in bringing Singapore’s UAM vision one step closer to fruition.
Ryan Lee, managing director Asia at Nova Systems, said, “We are thrilled to be part of the official launch of the Maritime Drone Estate. Singapore’s bustling maritime industry is the perfect launchpad for a future enhanced by UAS technology, holding countless opportunities to improve safety standards, efficiency, sustainability and access. In order to safely integrate a larger number of unmanned aircraft of different size and weight in the low-altitude airspace, a bespoke traffic management system tailored for Singapore’s unique environment is critical.
“Disruptions brought on by the pandemic have highlighted the vast potential of UAS applications in the maritime sector, as movements were restricted even as essential operations in the maritime industry needed to forge ahead. Worldwide, we have witnessed the incremental transformation of the sector, as critical operations like vessel inspections, medical deliveries and search-and-rescue efforts were empowered by UAS technology – freeing up human capital and reducing operational risk. Even amidst these trying times, we are finding that opportunities continue to surface as we come together to revolutionise existing processes and chart new paths for the longer term,” Lee said.
During the showcase at the MDE, Nova demonstrated the execution of a shore-to-ship delivery to an anchored vessel, piloted by F-Drones, with the aircraft safely deconflicted from a simulated aircraft from ST Aerospace flown remotely from their HQ in Paya Lebar, in eastern Singapore. Having tested up to 500 flight simulations at a time on its UTM system, Nova continues to build on the capacity and sophistication of its prototype to accommodate not just an increased volume of flights, but also a complexity of functions.
Nearly a century has passed since the land transport revolution, and about half as long since mass air travel was normalised. With the demonstration today, Singapore approaches a new milestone in the air transport revolution; through the continued development of an integrated and centralised UTM system, envisioning a future where pilotless on-demand air taxis for passenger transport and heavy-duty cargo drones can coexist in urban airways may not be as elusive as before. Nova’s UTM system was utilised at the MDE launch, demonstrating how flights paths from F-DRONES and ST Aerospace were safely deconflicted. The package delivery executed at the MDE launch demonstrated how the prospects of UAM could be the disruption needed for the maritime sector. Clocking a total of just six minutes for a round trip, significant time savings are evident as a typical delivery via a boat would have taken approximately 40 minutes to complete.
Expanding the efficiency and safety of traditional sea-based transport, UAVs hold great potential in complementing existing shipping protocols and systems. UAVs are powerful tools for the shipping industry, playing an increasingly important role in a variety of traditional shipping functions that previously required manned operations to execute. One particular area that looks set for a major revamp is that of maritime logistics, which traditionally requires labour intensive and time-consuming processes, while also leaving a sizeable carbon footprint. A fully functioning UAM ecosystem has the potential to address all of these concerns.
Enabling UAM operations and unlocking its benefits is best achieved incrementally, with a focus on testing and demonstrating systems in a limited environment – such as the maritime sector. Only after these initial system designs have proven safe and secure, can a smooth transition be made to other areas, and incorporate higher-risk operations. For this to become a reality, however, all players in the UAM community must move forward together to ensure that public safety and security remains paramount. Addressing this includes ensuring the airworthiness and reliability of UAVs operating in the low-lying urban airspace, the ongoing maturation of the UTM system on which these UAVs run, and the establishment of the necessary infrastructures and regulatory frameworks.
Singapore’s unique urban landscape underscores the boundless potential that a UAM-enabled future can bring. As the country pushes ahead in its Smart Nation drive, enabling secure and reliable UAM solutions through an integrated management system will play a major part in transforming the country’s landscape. Through continued collaboration with various government agencies and regulators, as well as drone operators and manufacturers, Nova looks forward to contributing to Singapore’s UAM vision – with the MDE setting the stage for the continued development and integration of safe and secure UAS applications.